The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.
Forget, for just a moment, the lines on a map that separate counties, states, and countries. Without these lines, North America looks fundamentally different. The desert southwest bleeds into Mexico. The Rocky Mountains rise up into Canada. Waterways and rivers flow through huge swaths of the continent.
If you take a closer look, the soil, geology, wildlife, climate, and biodiversity are the true markers of our regions. These natural factors, which are mostly timeless, represent a valid way to think about where we live, whether that’s in the Great Lakes, Appalachia, the Gulf, or the Pacific Northwest.
This version of North America is what Native Americans experienced before the arrival of settlers and their neatly drawn maps. From this perspective, maps seem arbitrary because they don’t represent the natural lines of how the continent fits together. Maps are drawn by man, regions are created by nature.
It’s within this perspective that a movement has been growing in the Pacific Northwest. Like other regions, we share a natural environment or “bioregion” that stretches across state and national boundaries. The bioregion is called “Cascadia” and many are adopting it as a way to think about the true territory of our home.
Cascadia, of course, has boundaries. But unlike our standard maps, Cascadia’s lines are based on the natural world rather than the imaginary lines of longitude and latitude. It encompasses over 500k square miles from southern Alaska to Northern California.
The purpose and goals of the Cascadia movement depend on whom you ask. The movement started in the 70s and 80s as an environmental movement and it remains environmentally-focused today. By defining and understanding a bioregion, the thinking goes, we can work together to protect and restore it. In the Cascadian context, this means Washington State and British Columbia should be aligned and collaborating as if they were a single region and not two countries.
Recently, the idea has become more mainstream, providing PNW citizens a new identity and way to think about our corner of the world. We are proud Cascadians, even if we’re not yet sure what that means.
Like our friends to the south in Texas, Cascadia does have secessionist tendencies. Some see it as an independence movement and future sovereign state that encompasses parts of Canada and the US. If this happened, it would have a population of over 16 million and an economy producing US$675 billion worth of goods and services annually. While there are zealots in every group, I don’t think succession is on the horizon. Besides, I’m not sure what would compel British Columbia to participate. Most people I know just love the idea of Cascadia as a bioregion.
Every movement needs a good flag and Cascadia is no different. “The Doug” was designed by Alexander Baretich in 1995 and sports a Douglas fir tree and colors representing blue for water, white for snow, and green forests. These are the unofficial colors of the PNW.
The Doug has quickly become a cultural icon and has been adopted far and wide. It is flown at MLS soccer matches between PNW rivals in the Cascadia Cup. The Seattle Sounders even have The Doug on their jerseys.
For me, the flag is a symbol of regional solidarity. In Seattle, we may have feelings about Oregon and their subpar soccer team, the Timbers. But we are all Cascadians. The same is true for British Columbia. Whatever differences our nations have, we are all Cascadians.
I love the idea of Cascadia being an independent state with its own laws and perspectives but I know it’s not reasonable. I also believe a kind of PNW utopia is possible, but we have so many other problems to solve. For now, I’m happy to be a part of the Cascadian bioregion and ready to work for its goals, even if they happen within imaginary lines.